“I’m Too Cool for That” and Other Lies I Tell Myself

Then…

During high school, I was pushed by teachers and classmates to be in speech, drama, band, choir, and yearbook. I didn’t stick with any of those for more than a semester or two.

These activities were for the “dorks” of the school. I would have rather opened up a wormhole and jumped into an alternate universe where dragons and dinosaurs ravaged the planet than ever be caught enjoying something like that.

No, I skipped these in favor of sports, weightlifting, and playing video games at home. That twisted high school perception of mine identified everyone different from me as “unpopular.” And, because of that strict clause in the Popular Kids contract that says “You must hang out with other popular kids—no exceptions” (Section 8, Subsection B), I couldn’t waste time performing on stage or memorizing lines or practicing trumpet at home.

Well, my perceptions started to vastly change toward the end of my senior year. In the last month of school, our school put on a talent show.

Our school was a small one, and it was my senior year. I resolved to do something I thought I was incapable of… to go so far out of my comfort zone, I would break its gravitational pull.

I began by approaching my high school English teacher, Mr. Foth, and convincing him I was funny enough to write skits and perform as an emcee with him.

That fool bought every word.

Then I approached the rest of the senior class and enlisted their help in performing a group act. I wrote a medley and played guitar for it, and—for the first time ever—I sang in front of others in a context where my voice could actually be heard. It was hilariously awful, deafness-inducing singing, but it didn’t much matter. The feeling of performing hit me harder than a tooth-jarring block in football ever could; the surge of adrenaline was stronger than even the most intense weightlifting session (or Pokemon battle).

And, like that, I was hooked.

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Well, here’s everybody in the school… No, just kidding. But only barely.

Now…

Unfortunately, I would only get that feeling in spurts for the next few years. Public speaking class. In-class literature discussions. Nothing major, and nothing that really filled that performance void, that emptiness right at the pit of my starcross’d corneas. And that’s where the emptiness stayed. Until, of course, I was invited to my college’s improv comedy group.

I could write War and Peace-sized analyses about how joining that group was the best decision I made. About how I’ve met some of the greatest, most caring and compassionate people through it. About how they changed the pace of my life from a slow trudge to confident march. But the point here isn’t to convince you to join a group like this. The point is to acknowledge a very serious problem.

See, I find it troubling how long it took me to even try a new interest. All through high school, I was concerned I would lose the few friends I had. After all, they were really about the only six or so people in the whole school I could ever see myself hanging out with. If their perception of me changed because I joined band or speech or drama, I figured I would be screwed. No more social life. So, I continued to avoid these “lame” extracurriculars and only stuck to what I knew I’d like, to what I knew they wouldn’t, and couldn’t, judge me for. And even when I got to college, it took two and half years to shake free of that constrictive mindset.

We’ve all been there at some point—scared witless that if you go out of your comfort zone, you’ll be ridiculed. Scared to try something new. Scared that your friends aren’t actually as understanding and forgiving as we think they are, or scared that you might end up committed to something or someone you don’t care that much about.

How many things were you scared to try in high school because there was some stigma attached to it? How many friends did you endlessly invite to something, only for them to consistently refuse to even try?

I sincerely hope the answer to both these questions is a resounding “none.” But I know it won’t be for everybody. Some of you, like me, will answer both of these questions with “a lot.”

As future educators, parents, and role models, we need to find a way to break these stigmas. Kids don’t know what they like. I don’t even know half of what I like.

Just think of the last time you thought, “Holy cats—that was amazing and I didn’t think I would like it so much.”

Seriously. Think about it, and answer these questions.

  • How did you get to that point?
  • Did somebody push you?
  • Did you push yourself?
  • How many times did you have to say no before you finally caved?

Answering these questions for yourself might better equip you to push that friend, that son or daughter, that troubled student, to their improv group. Their circle of friends that truly accept and reflect who they are.

The unfortunate truth is that comfort zones exist. Stigmas exist. And as long as they do, unfulfilled lives will exist. Undiscovered desires will exist.

Obviously, we can’t eradicate these problems entirely. But we can surely find a way to identify those who hold that damaging belief that drama is a fast track to zero friends, or that band is a complete and utter waste of time and noise. It starts with adults who have found out firsthand what’s “cool” isn’t always what’s right for you.

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